By Luke Fitzgerald
During music major Sabastian Salazar’s first semester at The Master’s University, he had a bit of a surprise when he met the dean of music.
Salazar tells about how he saw two older gentlemen speaking outside the music department and he introduced himself to them, asking who they were. One of them told him he was just a janitor, but it wasn’t long before Salazar found that he was speaking to Dr. Paul Plew.
Just under four semesters later, Salazar has learned so much from Dr. Plew, though one trait in particular stands out.
“I think one of the greatest things of Dr. Plew is his heart. It’s so contagious and it’s so melodious I would even say. It’s like those songs, that once you hear them, you want to hear them over and over and over again,” Salazar says.
Dr. Plew started teaching at the Master’s University long before any of his current students were alive. In 1979, he was asked to join the college as the chairman of the music department.
At that time, Plew was serving as the minister of music and youth at Temple Baptist Church in Tacoma, Wash. It was there that he made connections with Dr. John R. Duncan, the president of Master’s, then known as Los Angeles Baptist College.
When the previous music director of the then LABC resigned, Duncan asked Plew if he wanted to come down and fill the role. Plew says he liked working with music and working with youth, and so began his time at the now TMU.
When he came on, the whole school of music was in the president’s house, one of the smallest buildings still on campus.
Now, the school is nationally accredited, equipped with a world-class music recital hall that Plew designed as part of his doctorate degree. He directs multiple choirs, teaches all sorts of classes, and oversees the logistics and class offerings of the 25 adjunct and four full-time faculty in the school.
Last fall, Plew announced his retirement. After this semester ends, he will step away from the dean position. During an interview, Plew said that they were still looking for someone to replace him.
“Our prayer is that as a search committee is going through various individuals and looking, that we continue to draw from God’s wisdom, because God has the right person for this place. And it’s up to the search committee to find God’s mind on this.” Plew says
For years, students all around have admired Plew as more than just a professor.
Herbert Roger Vega, a music composition sophomore, says “Dr. Plew is a spiritual mentor, a man of wisdom, a man who strives for excellence in music for his Christ is excellent. He lives in a posture of worship in and out of the music context; I love this man.”
Plew doesn’t settle for just getting by in any part of life. Jennifer Ehlen is the Administrative Manager for the school of music and has been in the position for two years, despite knowing Plew for about 34.
“For him it’s ‘First God, then family, then craft.’” she says. Dr Plew says these priorities shape the mantra of the school of music.
He lives out this mantra. Catalina Sonnenburg is Dr. Plew’s granddaughter and is also a student at TMU, singing in the chorale. She notes that her grandfather is really invested in his students, while, at the same time, “is the same person at home and while teaching.”
Plew doesn’t want his students to sacrifice their relationship with God or their family for any musical aspirations. Nevertheless, he expects them to work hard. He wants his students to excel at one thing, to find and master their passion.
“If people are going to recognize how great God is, we have to do something to show that we’re using the talents to uplift the name of the Lord and do well, not just get by,” Plew says.
As much as his resignation is sad news for the entire school, Plew isn’t going to be gone for good. From all accounts, he will most likely be coming back to lead the choirs.
“It looks like I would be coming back here and leading the Chorale, maybe University Singers. But I’m still open to change if God wants that,” Plew says.
Most music majors are at peace with the decision. Even though it will mean seeing less of the school of music’s father figure, Salazar says he believes Plew is making the best choice.
“I think he’s someone that knows what the Lord is doing in his life,” he says. And what he’s doing is what he knows God wants him to do. And to me, that’s always an encouragement. I don’t think he would leave the dean position if it were to damage the music department or anything.”
On April 30, the TMU School of Music is going to celebrate Plew’s 43 years of faithful leadership with a night of worship. In preparation for the trip, Ehlen says that students from every decade of his career at TMU have been sending notes of gratitude for his incredible influence in their lives.